Shop: All collections

AFROPUFF™

AFROPUFF™ BOURGEOIS STREET GOTHIC CHIC   Who is AFROPUFF™ is a brand, an attitude, and product line based on the alternate persona of Adah Glenn that is inspired out of her life & work as the street artist known as AfroPuff. AFROPUFF™ features a ready to wear line of hand embellished, dyed & printed T-Shirts, greeting cards, toys, books, & accessories.    Established in 1992 out of the ashes of the L.A. Riots, The concept behind AFROPUFF™ reflects the city of its origin -- Los Angeles. Lost Angels, Vampires, Hustlers, Sharks & Dreamers bound with passion and love for the Game. AFROPUFF™ is the complex mix of hope in the face of despair, Authenticity in the face of Artifice. It is the precious exclusivity of one of a kind, in lieu of mass consumerism, and is Bourgeois yet Street, Scary Cute & Always Unique.

Antonio Benjamin

Antonio Benjamin (b. 1981) is known for rendering nudes. Working in traditional media such as colored pencils, acrylic, and ink appeals to Benjamin because he likes to have a large array of colors available when creating his iconic groups of flavored nude people. Benjamin remarks, "My work is about a group of people. Chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla people. They all think different. The chocolate people, they are really black, but I just call them chocolate."  In both digital and traditional media, Benjamin often depicts African American people and churches, reflecting his community and culture. Flashing his trademark bright smile, he says this subject matter is important and inspiring to him “because of our history.”

Ben Watford

According to potter Ben Watford, his lifelong love affair with pottery was born out of boredom. Growing up in Hertford County, North Carolina, in a family of 15 children, he and his siblings did not have toys to play with. However, one thing was always in abundance – clay. “You couldn’t walk anywhere without getting it all over your shoes,” said Watford. But mixed with some water, clay became magic. The kids made their own toys, including statues of siblings, trucks and anything that could be fashioned out of clay. Watford earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and mathematics from Howard University and a master’s in chemistry from Tuskegee University. He became a teacher of chemistry and math at both the high school and college levels in New York.

Black Beauty and Fashion Designers

From Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdez, who designed the iconic Playboy Bunny costume; to '80s legends Stephen Burrows, Patrick Kelly and Willie Smith; from renaissance man Sammy Davis, Jr. (yes, that Sammy!), to Renaissance-influenced visual artist Kehinde Wiley for Puma; from cult favorite Montgomery Harris to contemporary supernova Stella Jean, Black designers have exerted indelible influence on international style. At Material Life, we celebrate these style mavens and trendsetters by offering a highly selected inventory of never-worn and gently used pieces by our favorites, establishing their work within the overall context of Black excellence and creativity. Material Life is the only retailer of its kind specializing in vintage items by Black designers. Artie Wiggins Azede Jean-Pierre Brother Vellies DEMESTIK by Reuben Reuel Reuben Reuel for Demestiks New York Duro Olowu Gordon Henderson Kehinde Wiley for PUMA lemlem by Liya Kedebe Mimi Plange Mona Manet (Elsie Roxborough) Montgomery New York Montgomery for Jolinda (Montgomery Harris) Nomi Handmade Original Fashions by Sammy Davis, Jr. Ozwald Boateng Patrick Kelly Shantell Martin x PUMA Sistahs Harlem New York Stella Jean Stephen Burrows Studio 189 Wangechi Mutu for Born Free Africa Willi Smith William Okpo XULY.Bët  

Black Photographers

Man is the only picture-making animal in the world. He alone of all the inhabitants of the earth has the capacity and passion for pictures . . . Poets, prophets, and reformers are all picture-makers, and this ability is the secret of their power and achievements: they see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction. Orator Frederick Douglass wrote those words nearly two hundred years ago, but his keen understanding and promotion of the nascent medium of photography laid the foundation for the inextricable relationship between blacks and the camera. For a group of people who have been frequently represented by outsiders, black photographers have worked tirelessly to create their own vision of their communities and the world around them.

Bottlecap Figures

"Produced in quantity and, with a few exceptions, anonymously, the most common figures are about a foot high, their wood-block bodies decorated with a grid of incised lines, and sometimes glitter. Their serrated bottle-cap limbs hold a candy dish or ashtray; another tray is nailed to the head. The eyes are thumb-tacks, the ears wire or plastic hoops. The mouth is missing and a nose ring completes the face." h/t William Swislow "Many theories have surfaced to explain the origin of these figures. One dealer recalled a fad of their production in the late '40s after plans were published in a hobby magazine. The fad fizzled in about six weeks. Another said that they were souvenirs of Haiti, which would explain the Black figures. Some are clearly manufactured, since the collection has a few near duplicates. Bottle caps dating as late as the '70s have been found on some." h/t Philip Lamb

Christian Robinson

A 2016 Caldecott Honoree and Coretta Scott King Award Illustrator, Christian Robinson tells stories with pictures, making a living as an illustrator and animator in San Francisco. He’s worked with Pixar Animation Studios, The Sesame Street Workshop and illustrated a number of award winning picture books. Christian Robinson is a picture maker and award winning illustrator living in San Francisco. We invited him to be our first C+S Friend because we love his vintage-inspired, quirky illustration style. Spectacle brings his work together into a collection full of fun and playful prints.  

Design Team

Design Team (now merged with Peppertree) creates feel-good printed fabrics, inspired by nature and every-day life on the African continent. Cotton and linen base cloths are custom dyed to a unique colour palette and printing is done by hand using flat bed screen printing techniques. All homeware weight cotton and linen base cloths are custom dyed by a South African mill to insure a unique colour palette and consistency in quality and availability.  Design Team believes that textiles are the most widely used and understood design medium because of its tactile and functional nature. Design Team strives to make good design accessible with a positive narrative through pattern and colour!

Fine Art Editions

Fine art editions are originals in the sense that they are the original design of the artist, but they are conceived and produced in multiples—sometimes by hand, sometimes by manufacturing—which results in a lower cost. Some editions are open, meaning the artist doesn't set a limit on how many will be made, while many are limited to a set number.  Either way, it can be an affordable way to collect! 

Good Publishing

Published by Good Publishing of Ft. Worth Texas, the magazine focused on sensationalize story lines and True confessions were the central theme. The paper used to print these magazines was newsprint and was of lesser quality than high-end black publications like Ebony.  Adapted from Dull Tool Dim Bulb: Bronze Thrills was published by George Levitan, originally from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan [who] once said he never even saw a Black person until he was 18 years old. Levitan moved to Forth Worth, Texas, and bought the Good Publishing Company. Bronze Thrills was already being published, but George spiced it up a bit more. Not only Bronze Thrills but Hep, Jive, Sepia, Soul Teen and Soul Confessions. He hired African-American workers, trained them well, paid them well and promoted them to important positions. Soon his primary title, Sepia, was a moving force in the Black community. He also helped raise funds for the United Negro College Fund. Hep was published more than 30 years beginning in the 1950's and ending around the 1990's.  In the 1990's, the publishing company changed to Lexington Library of New York.

Jackie "Moms" Mabley

Born Loretta Mary Aiken around 1897 in Brevard, North Carolina, Jackie "Moms" Mabley ran away from home, falling under the seasoned tutelage of vaudeville performers Butterbeans and Susie. Traveling the Chitlin' Circuit with the comedic duo, Moms took Harlem by storm, the first Black woman on the stage of the Apollo Theatre around 1930 (at the height of her long career, she would earn $10,000 a week there), hanging out with Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway, and even writing a musical with Zora Neale Hurston.  One of the hallmarks of Mabley's humor is that she maintained that she didn't tell jokes, she told the truth.  Harlem's Apollo Theatre. Mabley focused on conventional topics such as family and others not normally covered by comedians of the era, white or Black, such as infidelity, poverty, welfare, and inebriation. "She was a woman among men and they treated her like a man" Billed as the Funniest Woman in the World, she adopted her original stage name from a boyfriend, Jackie Mabley, and began her career at 14. A teenage runaway, she joined the Negro troupe of Henry Bowman and Tim Moore and, in a short time, became a success. Quick-witted and quick-tongued, Mabley's unorthodox, self-assured routines as an outspoken grandma while wearing bag-lady clothes--old-fashioned print dresses and floppy hats--was a favorite with Black female audiences, particularly when she was lampooning the psychology of men.   "We called her 'Mister' Moms," dancer Norma Miller recalled. She came out as a lesbian at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first openly gay comedians. During the 1920s and 1930s she appeared in androgynous clothing (as she did in the film version of The Emperor Jones with Paul Robeson) and recorded several of her early "lesbian stand-up" routines. Her career spanned five decades, although white audiences did not know of her until the early 1960s. Mabley played Carnegie Hall in 1962. Mainstream TV appearances in the 1960s included variety appearances on shows hosted by Flip Wilson, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967), and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1967). She was an inspiration for irreverent female comics of that era, including Phyllis Diller and, in her final years, Mabley poked fun at the president and other government officials. She also added the occasional satirical song to her jokes, and her (completely serious and melancholy) cover version of "Abraham, Martin and John" hit #35 on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 19, 1969. At 75 years old, Mabley became the oldest living person ever to have a US Top 40 hit (Louis Armstrong, who would have been 86 when "What a Wonderful World" became a hit in 1988, is the oldest overall, although Armstrong was younger than Mabley when the record was made).

Jimmy Baynes

James Hamilton Baynes, Jr. was born July 12, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio, the oldest of 11 children. By the 1950s, he was an amateur photographer, launching the Baynes Foto Service at 2220 East 87th Street. For 3 decades, Baynes photographed life in Cleveland's African-American community, which was concentrated on Cleveland's east side. He could be seen at local events in his dark suits with his camera, shooting Polaroids and selling them for $5 each.  Baynes photographed everything from private weddings to beauty competitions and burlesque shows, making many photographs in the city's entertainment venues. His work includes jazz, R&B, and rock and roll musicians including Louis Armstrong, Ruth Brown, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, and Louis Jordan. Although Baynes' photographs were often published in Cleveland magazines and newspapers, such as The Call and Post, his photographs provide a unique view into Cleveland's African-American life, music and culture, one rarely covered by the mainstream media.

John Henry Toney

Alabama folk artist John Henry Toney was born in 1928 and lives in Seale, Alabama, at the edge of a swamp marsh. Although he loved to draw, Toney stopped when as a young man he was fired from a job because of a drawing he had made of his boss. In 1994, an unexpected event changed everything: John Henry was plowing a field when he saw, turned up in the soil, a turnip with a face on it. Believing that the turnip was a sign from God, he began to draw again. Toney frequently includes personal information in his work. It is not uncommon to see his phone number, the expiration date of his driver’s license and his age written around his drawings. These are important markers in his life which register his personal identity, and bestow individual importance. Often, the personal anecdotes of an artist are as important as the image-making itself. He declares his best work to be somewhere "between expert and genius." His subjects are sexy, exuberant and sensual.

Josephine Baker

One of the most celebrated figures of the twentieth century, St. Louis-born Josephine Baker rose from Broadway chorus lines to become an international dance, song, and eventually film sensation. Fearlessly self-loving, she took Paris by storm in the early 1920s. An ardent humanitarian, Baker adopted 13 children of various nationalities, whom she dubbed her Rainbow Tribe, and raised them at the Château des Milandes, her manor house in the Dordogne region. Her work with the French Resistance during World War II cemented her role as activist and humanitarian.

Kehinde Wiley + PUMA

Combining two issues of different natures and sentiments, PUMA hits 2010 by raising social awareness with international passion for soccer. In conjunction with FIFA World Cup, PUMA draws attention to the solidarity of Africa with the One Unity Project. To re-imagine a sense of community in Africa through soccer, PUMA has enlisted the help of New York based artist Kehinde Wiley to create a portrait of soccer players Samuel Eto'o, Emmanuel Eboue and John Mensah, depicting African togetherness. While we have reported on the video chronicling Kehinde Wiley's journey with PUMA through the project, the passion project is also translated into the tangible, wearable form of capsule collection of clothing, footwear and accessories which pays homage to the longstanding partnership between PUMA and African soccer. In the capsule collection are tees based on the original work of art inspired by the three African soccer players, and here is one of the versions featuring Samuel Eto'o. The colorful tee not only features Kehinde Wiley's renowned heroic portrait of Eto'o, but is worked into the colorful overlapping print in the background. The prints are inspired by local African fabric and artwork, lending the tees a specific African flavor. The tee is now available online at colette, and a portion of the profits from the sale of the collection will go towards programs that support biodiversity in Africa, in partnership with   UNEP's Year of Biodiversity 2010.  

Mama Girl

Eastern Shore of Virginia folk artist Mary "Mama Girl" Onley was known for her papier-mâché sculptures and colorful paintings. She started making art after a series of seizures and a diagnosis of severe allergies caused her to stop working in the fields—work she had done for more than 22 years since age 12. Onley began experimenting with a variant of papier-mâché using strips of newspaper, Elmer's glue and acrylic paint. She created her art in her home studio on a back road in Painter, Virginia. Also a pastor, Onley called for guidance on the Spirit — the voice of God that would speak to her when she began working on a new piece of art. "I said good Lord, give me something nobody's never done. Show me how to work this newspaper and glue," she said. "The Spirit showed me how to work the newspaper and glue and I started right from there, you know."  Watch Mama Girl on PBS here.

Mimi Plange

Guided by the principle she calls “The Democratization of Luxury,” Mimi Plange creates clothes inspired by modern American luxury sportswear. Africa remains a limitless font of inspiration for the Ghanaian-born designer, who constantly seeks out the unusual and the lyrical found in African traditions.    Plange launched her own ready-to-wear label in 2010. A graduate of the San Francisco Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, she holds a degree in Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley. She was named International Emerging Designer of the Year in 2011 at the Mercedes-Benz Africa Fashion Weekn South Africa, and Designer of the Year the following year. She also won Mayor Bloomberg’s Design Entrepreneurs Award in New York in 2012. Mimi Plange’s designs have been worn by Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Rihanna, and Janelle Monae. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, T Magazine, Vogue.com, Ebony Magazine, Vogue UK, Vogue India, WWD, Harpers Bazar, Marie Claire, Essence, Glamour Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Nylon Magazine.

Montgomery New York

"My collections are joyful and sexy. They look like a child's giddy vision of what a grown up lady would wear, effortless and matchlessly chic. The styles are classic—the combination of a dress with a matching jacket or a coat with pants; my colors and prints are fantastic! I marry the familiar with the unexpected, the pretty with the grotesque. Good design is always on a tightrope of bad taste. My creations are not for the timid. Collections are built around themes: the circus, butterflies, music, iconography, and pop culture. The fabrics and accessories used echo my motifs. To wear Montgomery is to court fantasy, to display a sense of humor."   Birmingham-bred Montgomery Harris (“Monty”) launched her line, Montgomery New York for Jolinda, Inc., after winning the Vidal Sassoon Award for Style. She opened a small, chic shop in NoLiTa before moving uptown to the corner of Harlem’s Seventh Avenue and 136th Street.  Her Southern heritage is reflected in her now-iconic logo, the bandanna-wearing Jolinda. Jolinda’s family, including the very popular Baby Girl-adorned items from clothing to handbags to jewelry. Her designs have been lauded by press from Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley to Essence and worn by celebrities such as Oprah, Diana Ross, and Erykah Badu.  

Nomi Handmade

Nomi Handmade is a Cape Town, South Africa-based brand created by Thandie Dowery that specializes in ready-to-wear shweshwe fabric jewelry. Their neckpieces, bracelets and earrings include a variety of thread-wrapping, beading, sewing and decoupage techniques. Being made from 100% cotton, each piece is hypoallergenic. Even in those items where metal findings feature, we always source nickel-free. Nomi Handmade endeavors to make all products with care and love, by hand, ensuring that each piece is crafted to the highest quality standards.

ODIE Nola

Designed by Chloe Newberry, ODIE NOLA is a custom line of recycled, embroidered clothing designed to shed light on historical untruths & recurrent issues affecting marginalized communities. The focus of the collection is to unlearn the lies history books taught us, and start a dialogue between the wearer and the questioner. “ODIE” is an acronym for “Or Does It Explode,” a line from Langston Hughes' Harlem poem, which poses questions about the aspirations of a people and the consequences that might arise if those dreams don't come to fruition. “Or Does It Explode" is also the title of the civil rights chapter of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, the influential non-fiction work that presents a factual history of America. By spreading social justice truths through graphic messaging on clothing, ODIE NOLA intends to educate the misinformed through fashion in an assertive, accessible way— one piece at a time. 30% of each sale is donated to VOTE New Orleans, an organization dedicated to restoring the full human and civil rights of those most impacted by the criminal (in)justice system. Please find a link to donate to the organization here. 

Ozwald Boateng

"When you wear an Ozwald Boateng suit, you become a statesman of cool." - Laurence Fishburne Ozwald Boateng was the youngest and first black tailor to have a shop on London's prestigious Savile Row. Born in London to Ghanaian parents, Boateng's talent for flare and design came very early, after dropping out of the computing course he was studying at the time he enrolled into Southgate College to study fashion. Recognizing that the signs for his future career had been around him all along, working from his mothers sewing machine he created his first collection which he sold to menswear fashion store Sprint in London's Covent Garden in the late 80s.

Patrick Kelly Collection

Designer Patrick Kelly (1954 - 1990) took the fashion world by storm in the 1980s when he debuted his vibrant, colorful designs, which he sent down a runway that more closely resembled a party. Kelly moved to Paris, where he became the first American member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter (the governing body of the prestigious French ready-to-wear industry).  Ahead of his time, the Mississippi-born Kelly adapted cultural stereotypes such as Mammies and Golliwogs into symbols of pride and self-identity. Kelly's classic designs have been the focus of two retrospective exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum (2004) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2014). 

Phlegm

Phlegm is a New Orleans native visual artist. Through the use of self-portraiture and mixed-media face painting, Phlegm strives to pay direct homage to native African religious and cultural practices and also expand the representation of Black native New Orleanians by using the face as a canvas.

Photo Jewelry

Photo-jewelry was primarily for remembrance, a readily available, affordable way to say I love you, and I want you to love me. It was a perfect gift for everything from Valentines Day, or the birth of a baby, to a soldier leaving for the Civil War—or mourning and remembrance for the soldiers who never returned. These vintage jewelry pieces, from the Victorian period, are an integral part of both American and European history. (excerpted from Photo Jewelry Book)

Ruth Inge Hardison

Born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1914, Ruth Inge Hardison was a sculptor, artist, and photographer known especially for her 1960s busts entitled “Negro Giants in History.” Her focus was historical Black portraiture, and she was especially interested in creatively representing the unspoken voices of the African American past. In 1969 she became the sole woman founding member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters (BAAL). Hardison's sculptures mostly began as clay, wax, or plaster molds, and later cast into cast stone or bronze. In 1963 Harriet Tubman was the first in her iconic series of cast iron busts, “Negro Giants in History.”  Hardison died on March 23, 2016, at age 102.

Sammy!

Yes, He Can! And did do a little bit of everything during his multifaceted career. All-around entertainer and Material Life favorite Sammy Davis, Jr., needs no introduction around these parts, but few know of Davis' talents off the stage. For starters, Sammy was an accomplished lensman—according to his longtime friend and biographer, Burt Boyar, Davis was never without his camera and given the length and breadth of his career, he met—and photographed—everyone. Davis also tried his hand at clothing design in the 1970s. Adapted from Gabriel Russo's Living On the Selvedge: I was doing some spring cleaning and came across and old jacket that I made for the Sammy Davis Jr. collection back in the 70s when I moved to Los Angeles. He was starting a clothing line and needed a pattern maker. I was introduced to him at Disco 9000 up on Sunset Blvd....Sammy leaned over the table to shake my hand. A cigarette dangled from his lips. The golden boy in a midnight blue Nehru collared suit. His shirt was unbuttoned to the chest exposing a gold chained Chai around his neck (life in Hebrew). It was entangled with a red horn (Malocchio—Italian for evil eye) given to him by Sinatra. Sammy's clothing line had a short life. He continued to be one of the best dressed men in Hollywood.

Shantell Martin

SHANTELL MARTIN is a graduate of Central Saint Martins, London, a leading center for art and design education. Her work has graced the cover of the New York Times home section and has appeared in Creative Review magazine, People, Mass Appeal, California Home + Design, and VieMagazine, among other publications. Named French Glamour's "New York's coolest it girl,"  she has collaborated with prominent commercial brands, as well as with bespoke luxury partners like Kelly Wearstler, 3×1 denim, Suno, and Jawbone.She regularly creates live digital drawings at conferences, musical performances, and museums, including the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Martin has been a visiting scholar at MIT Media Lab and is also an adjunct professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (Tisch School of the Arts, NYU).

Shindana Toys and Games

Shindana Toys, a Division of Operation Bootstrap, was founded in 1968 in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts, California riots.   "Shindana Toys, a division of Operation Bootstrap, Inc., stands alone as the largest black-owned and operated toy company in the world. It had its genesis in the rubble of the 1965 Watts revolt and it emerged in 1968 with a will to compete in the face of discouraging odds. A practical recognition of this spirit is reflected in the selection of the name “Shindana” – it means competitor in Swahili."Shindana was founded by Lou Smith and Robert Hall without government subsidy or aid. Substantial working capital, technical assistance and equipment were provided initially by Mattel, Inc., with no strings attached, as an expression of that company’s commitment to its social responsibility in the Los Angeles community. The company's goal was to help rebuild the community and provide jobs for community residents.  Their moto, Learn, baby! Learn!  was in stark opposition to "Burn, baby! Burn!" which was chanted by the 1965 rioters as they burned buildings in their own community during a six-day protest against police brutality.Shindana Toys was one of the many co-ops formed under the Division of Operation Bootstrap.  Their doll factory, located in Watts from 1968 through 1983, became a forerunner in the manufacture of ethnically correct dolls for Black children.  While most Shindana dolls were Black, their catalog of dolls includes a few that represent other ethnicities. Dolls were designed in Los Angeles by Edward "Batiste" Williams. The company marked a line of 32 Black dolls and 6 Black-oriented games. Mr. Lou Smith is to be remembered, for his vision helped make the difference between success and failure. He never wavered from Shindana’s objectives of providing jobs with pride in the ghetto and showing people that they can help themselves, and that in the process they can learn to love those who may be different from themselves. He believed that “the only plan is the commitment.” Today the Shindana dolls are collector items.  

Silk River Metals by Sandra Blakely

About the Artist After 25 years in corporate America a defining moment gave me the opportunity to do what I always wanted to…get my degree in Art.  Graduating from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia with a BFA in Metals and a minor in Fibers in 2001 was a promise fulfilled.My metal work is almost exclusively in copper and bronze, referred to as base metals.  They contain the properties for oxidation, turning green, especially against the skin.  Silver will tarnish as well.  This constant nano-process of change is very much the real beauty of these metals.  Copper and bronze are very much the life-blood of the earth and they will always be my first passion. My journey with these metals first began with the discovery of how they capture color and hold texture.  Later on wire became the thread and yarn of the fiber processes I also use.  I work primarily in low tech methods, creating the one-of-a-kind and by-the-hand works that speak of primitive and ancient societies and cultures within the expanding universe.  The mark of the hand was always visible, attesting to the authenticity of the maker.  Some pieces express universal symbols; some appear to have been resurrected from the bottom of the oceans or unearthed from excavations and reconstructed.  Some works appear to imbue divine spirit. Metal has allowed me this relationship with it; we share a mutual respect, the metal granting me some of my creative input.  No matter my intent, the metal will always speak back to me, letting me know what it will or will not do.  I have been fortunate in understanding this principle.  In respecting the metals self-awareness, it has enabled me to give it further life, character and spirit.  I hope I do it justice. Sandra Blakely

Sistahs Harlem New York

Fashion designer Carmen Webber, stylist Carmia Marshall and model Shawna McBean formed Sistahs Harlem New York in Spring 2001. Their collection is inspired by a fusion of many different cultures, from street prophets to private school girls, and hopes to put Harlem on the fashion map by highlighting the rich cultural and artistic heritage of the area. The label is "street couture," and features collections with such themes as "Les Femmes du Monde" and "Rastafarian Street Punk." The Sistahs Harlem collection is best known for homemade, unfinished, yet cleverly crafted pieces and has been praised by celebrities including Iman, Eve, Patricia Field and Missy Elliot. 

Stella Jean

Stella Jean is an Italian-Haitian fashion designer known for her métissage concept, where she blends cultures and unites opposites. Stella Jean designs stage unexpected cultural encounters, challenging traditional imaginaries and stereotypes. Jean began her partnership with the Ethical Fashion Initiative in 2013, using hand-woven cotton textiles made in Burkina Faso in her collections. Since 2014 Stella Jean expanded her work with the Ethical Fashion Initiative to include bespoke bogolan from Mali and jewelry from Haiti.

Stephen Burrows

Friends with Warhol, dressing Cher, partying at Studio 54: American fashion designer Stephen Burrows was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1943. Burrows is  one of the first African-American names in the industry. Known for his signature “lettuce hems” and sexy, flowing chiffons, he notably exaggerated stitching instead of hiding it and often used bright colors like red for the thread. Burrows teamed up with Target when it opened its first store in Harlem in 2010. “Doing a project like this would have been the kiss of death,” Mr. Burrows said. “Now it is a source of creativity.” The Burrows line was available in limited quantities.

The Sage Gem Presents…

Copper, Crystals, and Art, Oh My! A Collection for Material Life, New Orleans   Crystals and stones adhered to cording or leather, sometimes wrapped in copper, made into wearable art and craft such as necklaces, bracelets, rings, headbands and halos, and more.  

Willi Smith

Willi Smith was one of the most talented designers of his era. "Being black has a lot to do with my being a good designer. My eye will go quicker to what a pimp is wearing than to someone in a gray suit and tie. Most of these designers who have to run to Paris for color and fabric combinations should go to church on Sunday in Harlem. It's all right there."WilliWear, the company he co-founded in 1976, went from $30,000 in sales in its first year to $25 million in 1986. His soft, baggy looks did not require sophisticated tailoring and benefitted from the Indian textiles that he chose for their supple hand, easy care and comfortable aging, and indescribably indefinite colors. Smith's slouchy softness was a "real people" look. As Smith once remarked, "I don't design clothes for the Queen, but for the people who wave at her as she goes by." While primarily a designer of women's clothing, WilliWear was also influential in men's clothing. 

XULY.Bët

XULY.Bët is a Paris-based fashion line by Malian fashion designer Lamine Badian Kouyaté. Xuly Bët is produced by hand in the designer’s headquarters, called the “Funkin’ Fashion Factory.”  In 1990, Xuly Bët (which means “Keep an open mind” in Wolof) made a splash in the fashion industry, sending reworked, secondhand European clothes, mixed with sharp and sexy nightlife-ready styles in African-and-Dutch wax prints, down the runway. Repurposing clothes remains at the forefront for environmentally conscious consumers. Speaking on the current world order, Kouyaté is optimistic: Africa is part is the solution. Using the prints that bring so much color and joy are a symbol of the hope and power we bring to the world. No matter what disaster happens to us—like slavery—Africans come out of it with love.